Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Exchange Adventures: Portugal!

With three days to spend in Portugal, Joe and I decided to spend one day in smaller Porto and two in big-city Lisbon.  We knew nothing of either city, except for some insights from Jen about Porto and from TripAdvisor about Lisbon.  (Seems to be how I travel these days... I spend more time booking my trips than researching the cities.)

We took off on Friday morning and by the time we arrived in Porto City Center we were starving. Our first stop, which luckily was only a few hundred feet from the metro stop, was the Majestic Cafe, which was both beautiful and also a total tourist trap. We enjoyed a pretty delicious lunch, but it cost as as much as our hotel - which is pretty unusual for Portugal. I think it is worth a stop, but perhaps just for a coffee.

After lunch, we next made our way to the hotel, passing the local market and the main city streets. The front desk man pulled out a map and drew a guide to the city for us, clearly excited for us to go explore.  We somewhat followed his guide, which lead us through beautiful hilly streets filled with great architecture, colorful tiles, and blue doors!

We happened upon the Igreja Sao Francisco Church and opted to go inside.  I am so glad we did - it was far and away one of the craziest churches I have ever seen. It was completely covered with intricate wood carvings and gold. At one point in history, Napolean used it as a horse stable.  I wasn't supposed to take pictures inside but I managed to grab one (really poor i-phone one, that is) to demonstrate the details.

Next we walked along the boardwalk and then headed across the bottom part of the awe-inspiring Luís I Bridge. Then came the downpour!
We stopped in Calem Cellar's lobby to avoid the rain before thinking it had cleared up. We opted against doing a tour in favor of finding port to drink. When we saw a break in the rain, we opted to keep moving.  But the rain tricked us and we were soon getting poured on. This darling old lady grabbed us and brought us inside what we later learned was the Taberninha Do Manel bar.  Luckily, this ended up being perhaps my favorite spot in Portugal. The people were lovely and the ports were incredible.

When we saw a break in the rain, we hurried to Sandeman's bar to try even more amazing ports.  We were greeted with this lovely double rainbow when we left.

Then we took the cable car back to the bridge.  Apparently I asked for tickets to the ride.  (Yay port!)

Once back on the other side, after crossing the top part of the bridge, we made our way to the tram stop with the intention of taking it to the ocean. Unfortunately it had stopped running two hours previous. Doh.  We wandered around a bit and then decided to return to Sandeman's and Taberninha for dinner.  I can't do either place (or the food or the wine) justice... I can say that I would be completely happy going back.  We crossed over the bridge one last time before calling it a night.

I loved Porto.  It is a very small city, and had it not been raining we would have been able to see all we wanted (i.e. the tram/beach and the library.) But now I have a reason to go back.  It is a beautiful, friendly, delicious city and I highly recommend it!


On Saturday morning, we took the train from Porto to Lisbon.. Luckily we had time to stop and admire the Porto train station before leaving.  The tiles were fantastic.  In fact, the tiles everywhere were fantastic.
We arrived in Lisbon around 1:00pm, found our hotel, and went out in search of food.  Most of the places nearby were the types with waiters trying to usher you in.. which meant we avoided them and found a tiny place off one of the main squares instead.  Lunch was delicious, I learned how to eat a full fish, and the break gave us a chance to plan out our adventures in Lisbon.  We decided to take it easy and spend the afternoon in Belem.

We walked along the water and past a ton of construction on the way to the train station, then took the train to Belem.  Our first stop was the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, which is a giant sculpture erected in honor of Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator to commemorate Portugal's explorers and adventurers.  It is quite different to see how the nation relishes in the explorers versus seeing them as enemies.  Anyway, we opted to go the top and were rewarded with gorgeous views.  

Next we headed to to the Berardo Museum of Modern Art.  The description said the museum was full of artists I was excited to see and it was free.  How awesome, right? Well, sadly it was probably the museum I found least interesting of all my travels.  As much as I love art, I did not understand nor appreciate the modern art in this museum.  I was also disappointed not to see any of the advertised masters.  I'm still glad we went, but I wish it had lived up the hype.

Next we headed to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.  The church made up for the museum, as it was stunning.  I'm always fascinated at how different each church I visit is, and how each one has its own character.  

Next we went to one of the top stops of our trip - Casa Pasteis De Belem.  TripAdvisor mentioned that Belem had Portugal's best bakery, and that the typical Portuguese pastry was really good.  Let me be the first to tell you - this is a massive understatement.  We knew based on the queues that something good was happening, but we were blown away at how delicious the "pastel de nata" was. In fact, once we were done I had thought we were leaving and Joe was stuck behind people. It took me a minute to realize he was standing in line for round two.  These pastries were that good.

We stopped in the park for a bit before taking the train back to Lisbon, and then we made our way to the BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto. Ranked as the #2 restaurant in Lisbon, with reviews of the best wine experiences ever, we couldn't miss it.  When we arrived, it looked like a small quaint place with 2 out of 5 tables full.  Oh how unassuming this place was! The owner treated us to tasting after tasting of different Portuguese wines and ports.  With each order, he would give us each two glasses with different samples and let us compare them before picking.  For a snack, we ordered a bread plate with three types of olive oils and two jams.  I am pretty sure this dish was from heaven.  The jams were red pepper and pumpkin with walnuts.  So simple and yet so amazingly delicious.  I was one happy happy girl!

Somehow we were still hungry after the tarts, bread/jams, and wine.  On our way back to the hotel we passed a packed Asian buffet and took our chances. Luckily it was really good, filled with great people-watching and some surprisingly good fruit sushi - a random but awesome end to the day.

We slept in on Sunday morning and then made our way to St. George's Castle.  We spent about 1.5 hours wandering around and enjoying the views - totally worth the 7.50 euro entry.

We then headed to the Se Cathedral followed by lunch at a darling cozy place called Pois Cafe.  Next we wandered around Lisbon, which meant stopping at another cafe for desserts and coffee first, and then wandering around. Sadly, the one thing we really wanted to see - the Igreja do Carmo - was closed.  We did get some good views from the top of the Santa Justa Elevator, which can be accessed for free by climbing up the streets to the top.  I also found the Fernando Pessoa statue!

In all honesty, there wasn't much else we wanted to do in Lisbon. We went to another church, walked through the Barrio Alto, and realized we had seen everything we wanted.  We returned to the hotel for a nap, then went to another wine bar (The Old Pharmacy), dinner (Restaurante Indiano Delhi Darbar), and dessert #2 (Amorino) which included the most amazing ice cream I have ever had.  We called it an early night since we had to get up early to catch our flight back to Barcelona.

I think 1.5 days in Lisbon was just fine, and actually wish I had a few extra hours of that in Porto. But we did the best we could travel wise and in typical fashion saw nearly everything we wanted with record efficiency.  I really enjoyed Portugal, and especially am glad I was able to see two different cities. It is definitely very different from what I have seen in Spain, which was somewhat surprising. It also seems a bit run down- clearly the economy has not recovered - and there was graffiti nearly everywhere we looked.  But that's not to say that the cities didn't have great character.  I am not sure if I will be back (although those port wines are already calling to me!) but I am definitely happy I was able to go.

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